30 October 2009

Gucci's Latest Epiphany

Through an article in the fashion trade Women's Wear Daily (WWD), Gucci America, Inc. president, Daniella Vitale, announced several new initiatives for their operations: elevate the customer experience in their stores, bring greater job satisfaction to their employees by recognizing good work on multiple levels, increase efficient service, offer the same level of service to all customers no matter how much they spend, and strengthen communications to consumers about the brand.

Gucci arrived at this juncture with the help of the consulting firm, Millward Brown. Together, they studied the business from 2008 through the beginning of 2009. By investing in a consulting firm, this seems to imply that Gucci doesn't trust their own organization or lack one to investigate and resolve fundamental issues internally.

The overall conclusion of improving customer service is only one of two cornerstones in retail businesses, the other is the product. Gucci is a luxury brand. But luxury is not just about driving customer service and communication. Luxury is about the highest quality of product, a product that is difficult to find and attain due to pricing, and a product that is ultimately superfluous.

Vitale states: "[The customer experience is] the single most important driver of business." If this is the case, then Gucci is a marketing-driven business, much like a high street or commodity brand.

The most important driver of a business should ultimately be the product, driven not by customers but by a brand's own employees. Investment of time and long term commitment in these will deliver the authenticity that customers will continue to come back for. Millward Brown may think otherwise.

28 October 2009

A Thousand Words

Raffles L'Ermitage Hotel, Beverly Hills, California

"This room is reserved for non-smokers"
(Courtesy note placed in an ashtray)

20 October 2009

A Thousand Words

J. Crew, Westfield San Francisco Centre

(What's left for company XYZ?)

18 October 2009


Cecconi's West Hollywood, Los Angeles

"Could you accommodate us tonight at 8:00p?"
"We actually can. We're opening up our private Butterfly Room.
It has a multi-million dollar Damien Hirst artwork in it!"
(the former restaurant at this location hung a Francis Bacon painting)

A Thousand Words

Hotel snack shop, San Francisco

14 October 2009

"Perfect Delivery"

Every business should have a worst case scenario handbook for employees to reach for in moments of crisis or emergency. Consider it the "Trouble Shooting" section of electronic equipment manuals. Not only would one have been necessary for the Delta Airlines staff at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, but the Holy Grail for the Delta staff at JFK International Airport in New York.

Las Vegas, 9:00a: There was a flood of hungover and post-trade show passengers waiting to check-in with no discernible lines to abide by. A Delta greeter appeared like she had given up on finding any solution to assist the passengers and the counter staff. Instead of organizing the masses, she walked back and forth, unraveling into a heap of helplessness. We were checked-in, only barely.

New York, 6:00p: Half of the passengers' baggage didn't appear on the baggage claim carousel after an hour of waiting. Mine included. The belt continued to run empty, giving us false hope that they would suddenly, miraculously appear. For the next two hours we shuttled between the carousel and the Delta baggage service office, at first asking for, and then furiously demanding, an explanation and a solution.

The two customer service reps fed us illogical explanations because, as we later surmised, they didn't want us to complete and claim form that soon. To have fifty passengers' bags delivered the following day is a decent size additional cost for the airline. So, between informing us that the conveyor belt was broken while another flight's baggage was being deployed on the same carousel and that it will take an hour for one of them to go out to the tarmac to personally check on the situation, they took three hours to finally offer to complete the loss baggage claim form. And, aren't only planes allowed on the tarmacs anyway?

Peaceful and expedient resolution can be this simple:
"In case of delayed or lost baggage:
1) Take one hour maximum to confirm and/or determine loss.
2) Assist passengers in completing our Lost Baggage Claim Form and reassure them that you, and Delta, will do your best to have their bags delivered to them the following day.
3) Apologize for the inconvenience and thank them for their patience."

Passengers don't want to be lied to. It just aggravates the situation. I received by bag the following morning, intact and still locked. It would have been nice to have my three hours perfectly delivered to me as well.

09 October 2009


Ralph Lauren boutique, San Francisco

"There's a private event this evening."
(6:30p on a Thursday; Store closes at 7:00p)
"I'd like to shop. Can you let me in for just 10 minutes?"
"No, it's a private party."

Jean Georges, North of the Border

Jean Georges, self-proclaimed "formidable restauranteur," progressively functions as a licensor of his brand with one recent opening, Market by Jean Georges, in the stunning and new Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia.

I've been to many of his restaurants and they have always delivered when they opened. But then the downside of such collaborations rears its head. Market by Jean Georges is an endeavor backed by the Shangri-La Hotel, from the build out to the employee paychecks. Jean Georges, with his reputed star-power and track record with his namesake restaurant, brings the brand, concept, recipes, and some operational pointers.

Does this formula guarantee a quality dining experience that will capture a loyal clientele needed to sustain the business beyond the flow of the hotel guests? I say it doesn't because the most crucial variable of these partnerships is the staffing. No star of any business can change the course steered by poor service.

When I called for a reservation, I was greeted with a projection of exclusivity and snobbery. After some smooth talking on my end (why me?), I managed to secure a reservation. Upon my arrival, my party and I were greeted by hostesses new on the job and a dining room half occupied. We were asked to wait. Once we were seated I pulled out the guns.

"I'm visiting from New York and am a regular at Jean Georges and his restaurants there. How long have you been opened?" The tide changed so dramatically that I was embarrassed for the head hostess and two managers who soon after interrupted our meal to introduce themselves to us.

The telephone reservationist for any restaurant has the second most important responsibility to the Chef. To field and fulfill requests while introducing the tone and mood of the brand, their job is ultimately to sell as many unreserved seats as possible. It's a balancing act not for the faint at heart. So buckle up and get the training and hiring right because this poor reflection is on Jean Georges and the Shangri-La Hotel.

06 October 2009


Central Station Ticket Office, Amsterdam

"Two tickets to Antwerp, please."
"That will be 78 Euro."
"Are they 37 Euro each?"
(the online booking price)
"Something like that."